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2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom

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2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom
COVID-19 outbreak UK case counts.svg
Confirmed cases by country and NHS region in the United Kingdom[1][2]
DiseaseCOVID-19
Virus strainSARS-CoV-2
LocationUnited Kingdom
First caseYork, North Yorkshire, England
Arrival date31 January 2020
(1 year, 2 months, 1 week and 5 days ago)
OriginWuhan, Hubei, China
Confirmed cases88,621[3]
Deaths
11,329[nb 1][3]
Official website
'Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice' at www.gov.uk[nb 2]

The ongoing pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), spread to the United Kingdom in early 2020.[4] The first cases were identified in late January,[4] and transmission within the UK was confirmed in late February,[5] and there was a rapid increase in cases in March.[6] As of 13 April, there have been 88,621 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK,[nb 3][3] and 11,329 people with confirmed infection have died.[nb 1][3]

On 12 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus had caused a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, which had initially come to the attention of the WHO on 31 December 2019.[12] The UK subsequently developed a prototype specific laboratory test for the new disease.[13] The four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) raised the UK risk level from low to moderate on 30 January, upon the WHO's announcement of the disease as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).[13] After confirmed cases appeared in the UK on 31 January a public health information campaign was launched to advise people how to lessen the risk of spreading the virus.[13] Further cases in early February prompted the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, to introduce the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 statutory instrument.[12] Guidance on infection prevention and control, how to detect and diagnose COVID-19, and daily updates, including advice to travellers, have been published by the UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE).[12] In addition, the National Health Service (NHS) set up COVID-19 drive-through screening centres at some hospitals.[14][15] The Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, explained a four-pronged strategy to tackle the outbreak: contain, delay, research and mitigate.[16]

The earliest documented transmission within the UK appeared on 28 February 2020; all of the cases detected previously are believed to have been infected abroad.[5] By 1 March, cases had been detected in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.[12][17] Subsequently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the Coronavirus Action Plan,[12] and the government declared the outbreak a "level 4 incident".[18] On 11 March, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic.[6] Other responses included some schools in England choosing to close.[19] Airlines announced a number of flight cancellations,[20] and some online retailers reported consumers placing unusually large orders.[21] On 12 March, the UK risk level was raised from moderate to high.[22] Four days later, following the outbreak in Italy,[23] whose health system shares similar values and organisation to the NHS,[24] and based on evidence including forecasting by epidemiologists at Imperial College London,[25] the government advised on further measures on social distancing and advised people in the UK against "non-essential" travel and contact with others, as well as suggesting people should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, and work from home if possible. Pregnant women, people over the age of 70, and those with certain health conditions were urged to consider the advice "particularly important", and were asked to self-isolate.[23]

On 18 March, it was announced that the UK would close all schools except for children of key workers and vulnerable children.[26] On 20 March, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities were ordered to close, though delivery and take-out chains were allowed to remain open.[27] On 23 March, the government announced that in order to protect the NHS, these measures were to be tightened further, with wide-ranging restrictions made on freedom of movement, enforceable in law,[28] resulting in the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and other similar statutory instruments covering the other home nations.

In late March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson developed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for the virus. On 5 April, he was hospitalised due to the coronavirus and was moved to an intensive care unit the following day. Johnson nominated his First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, to deputise for him.[29] On 9 April, Johnson was released from intensive care, and left hospital on 12 April.

Background[edit source | edit]

On 12 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, which was reported to the WHO on 31 December 2019.[30][31]

The case fatality ratio for COVID-19 has been much lower than SARS of 2003,[32][33] but the transmission has been significantly greater, with a significant total death toll.[34][32] From 19 March, Public Health England no longer classified COVID-19 as a "High consequence infectious disease".[33]

Timeline[edit source | edit]

Template:2019–20 coronavirus pandemic data/United Kingdom medical cases chart

Late January 2020 – first cases[edit source | edit]

On 22 January, following a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States the previous day, in a man returning to Washington from Wuhan, China, where there were 440 confirmed cases at the time, the DHSC and PHE raised the risk level from "very low" to "low". As a result, Heathrow Airport received additional clinical support and tightened surveillance of the three direct flights that it received from Wuhan every week; each were to be met by a Port Health team with Mandarin and Cantonese language support. In addition, all airports in the UK were to make written guidance available for unwell travellers.[35][36] Simultaneously, efforts to trace 2,000 people who had flown into the UK from Wuhan over the previous 14 days were made.[37]

On 31 January, two members of a family of Chinese nationals staying in a hotel in York, one of whom studied at the University of York, became the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK. Upon confirmation, they were transferred from Hull University Teaching Hospital to a specialist isolation facility, a designated High Consequence Infectious Diseases Unit in Newcastle upon Tyne.[4][38] The index case for the UK, a 50-year-old female who had travelled from Hubei province and entered the UK on 23 January, had developed fever and fatigue after three days. Her close household contact, a 23-year-old student who had travelled from Hubei province on 6 January, developed symptoms on 28 January.[39]

On the same day, an evacuation flight from Wuhan landed at RAF Brize Norton and the passengers, none of whom were showing symptoms, were taken to quarantine, in a staff residential block at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.[40] There had previously been contention over whether the government should assist the repatriation of UK passport holders from the most affected areas in China, or restrict travel from affected regions altogether.[41][42] Some British nationals in Wuhan had been informed that they could be evacuated but any spouses or children with mainland Chinese passports could not.[43] This was later overturned, but the delay meant that some people missed the flight.[40]

February 2020 – early spread[edit source | edit]

On 6 February, a third confirmed case, a man who had recently travelled to Singapore and then France, was reported in Brighton. He had been the source of infection to six of his relatives in France, before returning to the UK on 28 January.[44][45] Following confirmation of his result, the UK's CMOs expanded the number of countries where a history of previous travel associated with flu-like symptoms – such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing – in the previous 14 days would require self-isolation and calling NHS 111. These countries included China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.[46]

On 10 February, the total number of cases in the UK reached eight as four further cases were confirmed in people linked to the affected man from Brighton.[47][48] Globally, the virus had spread to 28 countries.[49] That day, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, announced the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, to give public health professionals "strengthened powers" to keep affected people and those believed to be a possible risk of having the virus, in isolation.[49] The following day, two of the eight confirmed cases in the UK were reported by BBC News to be general practitioners (GPs).[47] A ninth case was confirmed in London on 11 February.[50]

On 23 February, the DHSC confirmed a total of 13 cases in the UK as four new cases in passengers on the cruise ship Diamond Princess were detected. They were transferred to hospitals in the UK.[51]

On 27 February, the total number of confirmed cases in the UK were reported as 16, including the first case in Northern Ireland – a woman who had travelled from the outbreak area in northern Italy, and flew from Milan to Dublin and by train to Belfast.[52][53]

On 28 February, the first case in Wales was confirmed in a person who had returned from Northern Italy.[54][55][56] The same day, two further cases were confirmed in England, one of whom was a man who became the 20th case of COVID-19 in the UK and the first case who did not contract the disease from abroad. He was a resident in Surrey and registered at the Haslemere Health Centre, which had previously been closed for "deep cleaning".[5]

On 29 February, three further cases of the virus were confirmed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 23, after 10,483 people had been tested.[12] Two of the three affected people had recently returned from Italy while the third had come back from Asia.[57] On the same day, Scottish CMO, Catherine Calderwood announced that surveillance would begin at some hospitals and 41 GP surgeries in Scotland.[58] Around 442,675 calls were made to the non-emergency line 111 in the last week of February.[59]

Early to mid-March 2020[edit source | edit]

Soap almost sold out, London, 12 March

On 1 March, a further 13 cases were reported, adding Greater Manchester and Scotland to the list of areas affected and bringing the total to 36, three of which were believed to be contacts of the case in Surrey who had no history of travel abroad.[60][61]

On 2 March, four further people in England tested positive; all four had recently travelled from Italy.[12] The total number of UK cases was reported as being 39.[20] The following day, when the total number of confirmed cases in the UK stood at 51, the UK Government unveiled their Coronavirus Action Plan, which outlined what the UK had done and what it planned to do next.[12]

On 4 March, the total number of confirmed cases increased to 85.[12] On 5 March, three further cases in Scotland were announced.[17] That day, the total number of confirmed cases in the UK was reported by officials as 115,[12] and a woman in her 70s with an existing medical condition, was reported to be the first fatality in the UK.[62] A further 48 cases were confirmed on 6 March,[63] with the total being over 200 the next day,[64] and adding a further 64 new cases on 8 March, the biggest increase in cases until that day.[65] On 9 March, the first three cases were discovered in Dorset.[66]

Some supermarkets began to limit purchases of items in high demand. 12 March.

On 10 March, it was announced that mental health minister Nadine Dorries MP had tested positive for the virus and was self-isolating.[67][68] On 11 March, 83 more cases were discovered in the UK bringing the total to 456.[69] On the same day, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic,[6] and it was discussed in the UK government's annual budget.[68]

On 12 March, the total of cases in the UK was reported to be 590.[12] On the same day, the UK CMOs raised the risk to the UK from moderate to high.[22] The government advised that anyone with a new continuous cough or a fever should self-isolate for seven days. Schools were asked to cancel trips abroad, and people over 70 and those with pre-existing medical conditions were advised to avoid cruises.[70][71]

Shopping in rubber gloves and a face mask, London, 15 March 2020

On 13 March, the number of confirmed cases rose by 208 to 798 confirmed cases,[72] with the first death from Coronavirus being reported in Scotland.[73] Many sporting fixtures, including the London Marathon,[74] the Six Nations Wales vs Scotland fixture,[75] and all Premier League and EFL football games[76] were postponed and the 2020 United Kingdom local elections were postponed for a year.[77] Similarly, the Country to Country music festival due to take place in March in London, was also postponed.[78] Strangely, the Cheltenham National Hunt four day racing festival which attracted over 250,000 racegoers was not cancelled. The UK Government restricted the export of three drugs being administered to COVID-19 patients in clinical trials in China: Kaletra, Chloroquine Phosphate, and Hydroxychloroquine [79]

On 14 March, the number of confirmed cases rose to 1,140 and the total number of people who had died in the UK had increased to 21.[80]

On 15 March, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock announced that everyone in Britain over the age of 70 would be told to self-isolate "within the coming weeks".[81] That day, the number of cases rose to 1,372 and the number of deaths increased to 35.[82]

On 16 March, the UK death toll rose to 55, with the number of cases of the illness passing 1,500.[23] The deaths included the first to be reported in Wales.[83] Also on 16 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised everyone in the UK against "non-essential" travel and contact with others, as well as suggesting people should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, and work from home if possible. Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions were urged to consider the advice "particularly important", and would be asked to self-isolate within days.[23] On the same day, a second MP, Kate Osborne, tested positive after a period of self-isolation.[84][85][86][87]

Supermarkets introduced early shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable

On 17 March, NHS England announced that all non-urgent operations in England would be postponed from 15 April to free up 30,000 beds.[88] Also on 17 March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that £330bn would be made available in loan guarantees for businesses affected by the pandemic.[89][90] On that day the UK death toll rose to 71, while the number of confirmed cases increased to 1,950.[91][92]

On 17 March, the government provided a £3.2million emergency support package to help rough sleepers into accommodation.[93][94] With complex physical and mental health needs, in general, homeless people are at a significant risk of catching the virus.[93]

On 18 March, MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle announced that he had tested positive for with the virus.[95]. Boris Johnson made a statement on his daily briefing, announcing that all schools in the UK were to close on Friday to everyone except those who have parents with important jobs that they can't do from home. On 19 March, the first death was confirmed in Northern Ireland.[96] The Ministry of Defence also announced the formation of the COVID Support Force, enabling the military to support public services and civilian authorities in tackling the outbreak.[97] Two military operations were also announced: Operation Rescript, which focuses on the outbreak in the United Kingdom; and Operation Broadshare, which focuses on British military activities overseas.[98]

Late March 2020[edit source | edit]

Next closed its 700 stores on 23 March, having previously traded with warning notices about the virus

On 20 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested the closure of pubs, restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues, museums and galleries that evening, though with some regret saying "We’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub".[99][100] The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency announced that all pending practical and driving theory tests were to be postponed, for at least 3 months in the case of practical tests, and up to and including 20 April for theory tests. All candidates were to receive notification of when their tests were rescheduled.[101][102]

On 22 March, the UK death toll reached 281, including what was reported to be the virus's youngest British victim so far, an eighteen-year-old with underlying health problems.[103] On 23 March, Next was the latest retailer to announce that it was temporarily closing its 700 stores due to the pandemic. It predicted a £1bn loss in revenue due to the virus.[104][105] On the same day, Downing Street confirmed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would act in place of Prime Minister Boris Johnson if he became "incapacitated".[106]

On 23 March, Boris Johnson announced in a television broadcast that measures to mitigate the virus were to be tightened further in order to protect the NHS, with wide-ranging restrictions made on freedom of movement, enforceable in law,[28] for a planned "lockdown" period intended to last for at least three weeks.[107] The government directed people to stay at home throughout this period except for essential purchases, essential work travel (if remote work was not possible), medical needs, one exercise per day (alone or with household members), and providing care for others.[108] Many other non-essential activities, including all public gatherings and social events except funerals, were prohibited, with many categories of retail businesses ordered to be closed.[28][109]

The Scottish Parliament closed on 24 March, with plans to reconvene on 1 April to discuss emergency legislation.[110] The National Assembly for Wales closed to the public on 17 March, it reconvened on 1 April using 'Zoom', for a virtual 'emergency Senedd' meeting.[111] The Northern Ireland Assembly reduced it's workload by suspending all non-essential Assembly business on 18 March, it closed to the public on 19 March.[112] From the 7 April it held Ad-hoc COVID-19 Response Committees.[113] The UK Parliament closed on 25 March, with the Speaker and the Leader of the House hopeful to set up a 'virtual parliament' by 21 April.[114][115]

On 24 March, it was announced that NHS England would establish a temporary critical care hospital, NHS Nightingale Hospital London, in the Excel London conference centre.[116] Also on 24 March, it was reported that NHS Wales were looking at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff for a similar purpose.[117] On 25 March, it was confirmed that NHS Scotland had identified Glasgow's SEC Centre exhibition and conference facility as a potential site for a similar hospital in Scotland.[118] On 26 March it was reported that the Northern Ireland health service was also looking for potential sites to use for temporary hospitals.[119] On 27 March, NHS England announced that they would be establishing more NHS Nightingale Hospitals in major conference centres to help to deal with the large number of cases expected.[120]

According to official data released on 24 March, there had been 87 new coronavirus deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 422.[121]

On 25 March, British diplomat Steven Dick, deputy ambassador to Hungary, died in Budapest after contracting the virus.[122] On the same day, it was announced the police would be given the power to use "reasonable force" to enforce the regulations.[123] The first two working NHS doctors died from COVID-19 on the same day, one a GP, the other a surgeon.[124]

On 26 March, the number of UK coronavirus deaths jumped by more than 100 in a day for the first time, rising to 578, while a total of 11,568 had tested positive for the virus.[125] At 8pm that day, people from across the UK took part in national applause in appreciation of health workers.[126] This applause was repeated the following week.[127]

Electronic display sign normally used for traffic management displays COVID19-related advices on an almost deserted Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre, 24 March.

On 27 March, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock announced that they had tested positive for the virus.[128][129] On the same day, Labour MP Angela Rayner, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, confirmed she had been suffering symptoms and was self-isolating.[130] Chief Medical Adviser Chris Whitty also reported suffering from symptoms and would be self-isolating, while continuing to advise the UK government.[131] That day also saw the largest increase in the number of deaths, with the figure rising by 181 from the previous day, bringing the total to 759, while 14,579 cases had been confirmed.[132] On the same day, the Royal Mint announced that it was manufacturing medical visors for medical staff working during the pandemic.[133][134] The National Police Chiefs' Council said police had issued their first fines for people breaking lockdown rules. The fixed penalty notices are £60 but will be reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.[135]

On 28 March, the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack announced that he was self-isolating after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.[136] A further 260 deaths also took the number of fatalities past 1,000, with a total of 1,019 deaths having occurred so far, and 17,089 people having tested positive.[137] That evening, new regulations came into force in Northern Ireland giving authorities the power to force businesses to close, and impose fines on them if they refused, as well as on people leaving their homes without a "reasonable excuse". The measures, introduced by the Northern Ireland Executive, brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.[138][139]

Social distancing while queueing to enter a British supermarket 30 March 2020

On 29 March, it was reported that the government would send a letter to 30 million households warning that things would "get worse before they get better" and that tighter restrictions could be implemented if necessary. The letter would also be accompanied by a leaflet setting out the government's lockdown rules along with health information.[140] Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, suggested it could be six months before life could return to "normal", because social distancing measures would have to be reduced "gradually".[141] The first NHS nurse died of COVID-19.[124]

On 30 March, Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's Chief Adviser, was reported to be self-isolating after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.[142] As the number of reported deaths rose to 1,408, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser said that there were early signs social distancing measures were "making a difference". Transmission of the virus within the community was thought to be decreasing, and hospital admission data suggested cases were not rising as fast as anticipated.[143] Dominic Raab announced an arrangement between the government and major UK airlines to fly home tens of thousands of British nationals who had been stranded abroad by the coronavirus outbreak.[144]

On 31 March the largest UK death toll of the outbreak so far was reported, with 381 deaths taking the total to 1,789.[145]

Early April 2020[edit source | edit]

A letter sent by the Prime Minister to every household in the UK along with government guidance on coronavirus, 3 April.

On 1 April, the government confirmed that a total of 2,000 NHS staff had been tested for coronavirus since the outbreak began, but Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said a shortage of chemical reagents needed for the test meant it was not possible to screen the NHS's 1.2 million workforce.[146] Gove's statement was contradicted by the Chemical Industries Association, which said there was not a shortage of the relevant chemicals and that at a meeting with a business minister the week before the government had not tried to find out about potential supply problems.[147] On 1 April the number of deaths was confirmed to have increased by 563 to 2,362, while a total of 29,474 cases had been diagnosed, 4,324 over the previous 24 hours.[146]

On 2 April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, after his seven-day period of isolation, announced a "five pillar" plan for testing people for the virus, with the aim of conducting 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.[148] At 8pm on 2 April the UK gave another national round of applause for NHS staff and other key workers.[149]

With warm weather forecast for some areas during the upcoming weekend, on 3 April Hancock warned people to stay at home, telling them this was an instruction "not a request".[150] On 4 April it was announced that a five-year-old had died from the virus, believed to be the youngest victim to date.[151] The death total was reported as 4,313, having risen by 708 from the previous day's figure. Michael Gove dismissed a growing conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was spread by 5G wireless networks — leading to the vandalism and torching of several cell towers. He argued that this theory was "dangerous nonsense"; mobile operator Vodafone considered the vandalism a matter of national security.[152][151]

On 5 April, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the nation and the wider Commonwealth, something she had done on only four previous occasions (except for the Royal Christmas Message and her Diamond Jubilee). She thanked people for following the government's social distancing rules and paid tribute to key workers, and said the UK would succeed in its fight against coronavirus but may have "more still to endure".[153] That day, Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital as a "precautionary measure" after suffering from symptoms for more than a week with no improvement.[154] Catherine Calderwood, Scotland's chief medical officer, resigned from her post after it emerged she had been spoken to by police for visiting her second home during lockdown.[155]

On 6 April, Boris Johnson was moved to the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital in London as his symptoms worsened. Dominic Raab assumed Johnson's duties.[156]

On 7 April the number of reported deaths increased by 786, taking the total to 6,159. The figure compared with 439 deaths for the previous day. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said that the figures were not accelerating as had been predicted but that it was too early to tell whether the outbreak was peaking.[157][158]

On 8 April, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, confirmed the Welsh Government would extend the lockdown beyond the initial three-week period for Wales.[159] On that day a further 938 deaths were reported in the UK, taking the total to 7,097.[160] Sunak announced £750m of government spending to help small charities.[161]

On 9 April the number of recorded deaths increased by 881, taking the total to 7,978. Dominic Raab said the UK was "starting to see the impact" of the restrictions but that it was "too early" to lift them, and urged people to stay indoors over the Easter weekend.[162] With warm weather forecast again for Easter, this message was echoed by police and tourist destinations.[163] Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care, but remained in hospital.[164] At 8pm on 9 April the nation staged a third round of applause for NHS staff and other key workers.[165]

On 10 April the UK recorded another 980 deaths taking the total to 8,958. Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, told the government's daily briefing the lockdown was "beginning to pay off" but the UK was still in a "dangerous situation", and although cases in London had started to drop they were still rising in Yorkshire and the North East.[166] Matt Hancock told the briefing a "Herculean effort" was being made to ensure daily deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers, including the establishment of a domestic manufacturing industry to produce the equipment. Fifteen drive-through centres had also been opened around the UK to test frontline workers.[167]

On 11 April the number of reported deaths increased by 917, taking the total to 9,875. After some NHS workers said they still did not have the correct personal protective equipment to treat patients, Home Secretary Priti Patel told that day's Downing Street briefing she was "sorry if people feel there have been failings" in providing kit.[168] The Queen released an Easter message, the first time she had done so, in which she spoke of hope and said "coronavirus will not overcome us".[169]

Boris Johnson left hospital on Sunday 12 April.[170] On that day a further 737 coronavirus-related deaths were reported, taking the total past 10,000 to 10,612. Matt Hancock described it as a "sombre day".[171] On 13 April the number of reported deaths increased by 717 to 11,329. Dominic Raab told the Downing Street briefing the government did not expect to make any immediate changes to the lockdown restrictions and that the UK's plan "is working" but that "we are still not past the peak of this virus".[172]

Testing and surveillance[edit source | edit]

Warning notices at a London doctor's surgery, 13 March 2020

Shortly after confirming that the cause of the cluster of pneumonia in Wuhan was a new coronavirus, Chinese authorities had shared its genetic sequence for international developments of diagnostic kits.[35] By 10 January,[173] the UK had developed a prototype specific laboratory test for the new disease, performed on a sample from the nose, throat, and respiratory tract and tested at PHE's Colindale laboratories in London.[49] Testing of patients began within days,[174] and by 3 February 326 tests had been performed in the UK.[13] Over the following few weeks, PHE made the test available to 12 other laboratories in the UK, making it possible to test 1,000 people a day.[49][175]

Following 300 staff being asked to work from home on 26 February 2020 in London, while a suspected person was awaiting a test result for the virus, PHE announced it was to increase surveillance by widening testing around the UK to include people with flu-like symptoms at 100 GP surgeries and eight hospitals: the Royal Brompton and Harefield, Guy's and St Thomas' and Addenbrookes Hospital, as well as hospitals at Brighton and Sussex, Nottingham, South Manchester, Sheffield, Leicester.[176][177] Surveillance was shortly extended to some hospitals and GP surgeries in Scotland.[58]

Drive-through screening centres were set up by Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust at Parsons Green Health Centre on 24 February 2020,[14] and by NHS Lothian at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.[15] A further drive-through testing station was set up by the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at a site just off the A57 Sheffield Parkway dual-carriageway on 10 March; in this case, patients ringing NHS 111 with coronavirus-like symptoms in the Sheffield area will be told to drive, if possible, to the testing centre at an allotted time.[178]

On 11 March NHS England announced that testing in NHS laboratories would increase from testing 1,500 to 10,000 per day.[68] The test consists of taking a sample from the nose, throat, deeper lung samples, blood or stool, and transporting the packed samples to the listed PHE regional laboratory designated for the referring laboratory region.[179][180] As of 12/13 March 2020, 29,764 tests had been conducted in the UK, corresponding to 450.8 tests per million people.[181] On 24 March, Matt Hancock said the government had bought 3.5m kits that would test if a person has already had COVID-19; no date was given for their arrival. These tests would allow people to know if they were immune and therefore able to "go back to work".[182] Hancock announced on 28 March that 10,000 tests a day were now being processed; the actual figure was 5,000.[183][184] As of 31 March, 143,186 people had been tested.[185]

The government and Public Health England were criticised for what some saw as a failure to organise mass testing. On 28 March the editor-in-chief of The Lancet published a condemnation of what he saw as government inaction and ignoring of WHO advice.[186] On 31 March former WHO director Anthony Costello, following WHO advice that countries should "test, test, test", said the key to the UK transitioning out of lockdown was mass testing, and that the UK had the capacity to reach the level of testing being carried out by Germany (70,000 tests a day, compared to the UK's 5,000), but that the government and Public Health England (PHE) had been too slow and controlling to organise.[187] The day after, Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee and former Health Secretary, said it was "very worrying" that the government had not introduced mass testing because doing so had been "internationally proven as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmission".[188] On 2 April, The Telegraph reported one of the Government's top science advisers, Graham Medley, claiming that "mass public testing has never been our strategy for any pandemic." Medley also stated that the Government "didn't want to invest millions of pounds into something that is about preparedness."[189]

Forecasting[edit source | edit]

Social distancing at a London pharmacy, 23 March 2020

Reports from the Medical Research Council's Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London have been providing mathematically calculated estimates of cases and case fatality rates.[49][190] In February, the team at Imperial, led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, estimated about two-thirds of cases in travellers from China were not detected and that some of these may have begun "chains of transmission within the countries they entered."[191][192][193] They forecast that the new coronavirus could infect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario.[194]

In a paper, the Imperial team provided detailed forecasts of the potential impacts of the epidemic in the UK and US.[25][195] It details the potential outcomes of an array of 'non-pharmaceutical interventions'. Two potential overall strategies outlined were: mitigation, in which the aim is to reduce the health impact of the epidemic but not to stop transmission completely; and suppression, where the aim is to reduce transmission rates to a point where case numbers fall. Until this point government actions had been based on a strategy of mitigation, but the modelling predicted that while this would reduce deaths by approximately 2/3, it would still lead to approximately 250,000 deaths from the disease and the health systems becoming overwhelmed.[25] On the same day as the report was released, the Prime Minister announced in a press conference significant changes to the government advice, extending self isolation to whole households, advising social distancing particularly for vulnerable groups, and indicating that further measures were likely to be required in the future.[23][195] A paper on 30 March by Imperial estimated that the lockdown would reduce the number of dead from 510,000 to less than 20,000.[196]

In April, biostatistician Professor Sheila Bird said that delays in the reporting of deaths from the virus mean that there is a risk of underestimating the steepness of the rising epidemic trend.[197]

Response by sector[edit source | edit]

Arts and entertainment[edit source | edit]

Music[edit source | edit]

The "Wee Annie" statue in Gourock with a face mask, on 22 March.

On 13 March, BBC Radio 1 cancelled its Big Weekend music festival, scheduled to take place at the end of May.[198] Other music events to be cancelled included the C2C: Country to Country festival,[199] the 2020 Glastonbury Festival,[200] the Isle of Wight and Download music festivals[201] and the Cambridge Folk Festival.[202]

Among the artists and bands to postpone or cancel UK gigs or tours were Avril Lavigne and The Who.[199][203] Other, including Chris Martin of Coldplay, Yungblud, Keith Urban, and Christine And The Queens responded to the situation by live-streaming gigs through social media.[204] Former Beautiful South members Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott announced they would play a free show for NHS staff working on the frontline of the pandemic in October, giving away 9,000 tickets for the event.[205] Rick Astley announced that he would play a free gig for NHS staff at the Manchester Arena on 28 October,[206] while Liam Gallagher announced that he would play a free gig for NHS staff at The O2 Arena on 29 October.[207]

Theatre and cinema[edit source | edit]

On 15 March, London's Old Vic became the first West End theatre to cancel a performance when it ended its run of Samuel Beckett's Endgame two weeks early.[208] On 16 March, other theatres in London, as well as elsewhere around the UK, closed following Boris Johnson's advice that people should avoid such venues.[209] On 17 March, cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld, Vue and Picturehouse announced they would be closing all of their UK outlets.[210] On 1 April, the 2020 Edinburgh festivals, planned for August, were cancelled.[211]

On 26 March the National Theatre launched National Theatre at Home, a two-month programme whereby a different production from its archives was streamed for free each week. The project began with Richard Bean's comedy One Man, Two Guvnors featuring James Corden.[212]

Television and radio[edit source | edit]

Television programmes to be affected included forthcoming series of Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty, which had their filming schedules delayed.[213] On 13 March, ITV announced that the 2020 series finale of Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, scheduled to be broadcast from Walt Disney World in Florida would no longer go ahead after the resort announced its intention to close as a precautionary measure.[214] On 16 March, ITV announced that the filming schedule for its two soaps, Coronation Street and Emmerdale had not been affected by the pandemic,[213] but filming ceased on 23 March.[215] On 18 March ITV announced the semi-final of the ninth series of The Voice UK, scheduled for 28 March, would be postponed until later in the year.[216]

On 16 March, the BBC delayed the implementation of its planned changes to TV licences for those aged over 75 from June to August.[217] On 25 March the BBC also announced that it would delay its plans to cut 450 news jobs due to the pressure of covering the pandemic.[218]

On 17 March, the BBC announced major changes to the schedule across the network. While some programmes were suspended, others such as Newsnight and The Andrew Marr Show continued with a smaller number of production staff. Some podcasts were also suspended.[219] On 18 March it was announced that filming of soap operas and regular dramas would be suspended.[220] The BBC also said that it would show more educational programmes to cater for children not attending school,[221] and more programmes focused on health, fitness, education, religion and food recipes.[216] On 23 March, ITV ceased the live broadcasting of two programmes.[215]

On radio, some BBC World Service programmes were suspended. Radio news summaries on Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live were merged into a single output, with BBC 6 Music using the same script. The BBC Asian Network and Newsbeat worked together to maintain production of stories.[219] On 18 March, the BBC announced that its local radio stations in England would broadcast a virtual church service, led initially by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but with plans to expand religious services to cover other faiths.[216] On the same day Radio News Hub, a radio news bulletin provider based in Leeds, announced that it would produce a daily ten-minute programme giving a round-up of information about the pandemic and that would be made available free of charge to radio stations.[222] On 28 March, BBC Local Radio announced that it had teamed up with manufacturers, retailers and the social isolation charity WaveLength to give away free DAB radios to vulnerable people over the age of 70.[223]

Construction[edit source | edit]

Many construction sites initially remained operational following the introduction of social distancing rules. Following criticism, housebuilders including Barratt and Taylor Wimpey, and contractors including Mace paused work on 24 March,[224] though Mace later reopened some sites.[225] Meanwhile, confusion about what constituted essential work, along with contractors' enforcement of subcontractors' contractual obligations, meant some projects remained operational, and many site workers experienced highly variable application of social distancing precautions.[226] In Scotland, work was ordered to be suspended on all non-essential construction projects from 6 April.[227] Major contractors including Mace, McAlpine, Laing O'Rourke, Wates and Morgan Sindall each put 100s of workers on furlough.[228] By 8 April, work at 80% of UK housebuilding sites had stopped.[229]

Consumers[edit source | edit]

The almost empty pasta section in a London Tesco, 7 March 2020

It was reported in The Guardian that British supermarkets and their suppliers had developed a plan to ensure a consistent supply of a range of basic goods if there was panic-buying by consumers. Tesco, the country's largest supermarket chain, was said to have carried out simulation exercises to plan for events such as a pandemic flu outbreak which could be used to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.[21] There were reports of hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial products selling out at some supermarkets.[230] Online retailers reported consumers placing unusually large orders while the managing director of the frozen food chain Iceland reported increased sales of "multibuy deals and larger packs".[21]

People in London were buying more canned foods and toilet paper, 18 March 2020

Some supermarkets and other shops responded by limiting the quantity of popular items that each customer could buy, while others had a limit across their entire range.[231][232] Sainsbury's announced on 18 March that they would introduce a dedicated shopping hour for elderly and disabled customers, as well as giving them priority for online deliveries.[233] Other supermarkets, such as Iceland and Morrisons, also introduced measures.[234] Sainsbury's further announced on 21 March that they would give healthcare workers allocated shopping hours on three mornings a week.[235]

Amazon stopped sellers from sending non-essential products to their warehouses.[236] Selfridges closed all its stores and sold only online.[236]

In response to the panic buying of food, Professor Stephen Powis, medical director at NHS England, said on 21 March that NHS staff were being deprived of food supplies because of the activities of some consumers, and urged people to shop responsibly. Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium said that there was enough food in the supply chain, but that the issue was getting it to retailers quick enough, suggesting the food industry was experiencing "a peak in demand" like at Christmas, but "without the four-month build-up period." She added that that an extra £1bn had been spent on food in the preceding three weeks.[237] Environment Secretary George Eustice also urged shoppers to stop panic buying.[238] On the same day it was reported that Tesco, Asda, Aldi, and Lidl had begun a recruitment drive for up to 30,000 new staff.[239]

On 21 March, the government announced that the 5p charge for carrier bags would be waived for online food deliveries.[240]

Sainsbury's announced that it would remove purchasing limits on most items from 5 April.[241] On 8 April Tesco said that it could not meet the increased demand for online shopping despite expanding its home delivery service, and 85 to 90 percent of food would need to be bought in store.[242]

Defence[edit source | edit]

In March 2020, following a request for military aid to the civil authorities, the Ministry of Defence announced the formation of the COVID Support Force, a 20,000-strong military force under Standing Joint Command at Aldershot,[243] to support public services and civil authorities in tackling the pandemic.[97] Two military operations; Operation Rescript, based in the UK, and Operation Broadshare, focused on overseas defence activities, were launched.[98] Chief of the Defence Staff Nick Carter ordered the military to prepare for a "six month" operation and to be on an "operational footing" by mid-April.[244] The COVID Support Force was initially tasked with driving oxygen tankers for the NHS, as well as delivering medical supplies, including PPE, to hospitals.[97][245] Prior to the announcement of the COVID Support Force, the armed forces had assisted the British government in repatriating British citizens from affected areas, including China and Japan.[246] The Royal Air Force also repatriated British and EU citizens from Cuba.[247]

The coronavirus pandemic affected military deployments at home and abroad. Training exericses, including those in Canada and Kenya, had to be cancelled to free up personnel for the COVID Support Force.[248] The British training mission in Iraq, part of Operation Shader, had to scaled down.[249] An air base supporting this military operation also confirmed two cases of coronavirus.[250]

Elsewhere in defence, air shows, including the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, were also cancelled.[251] Civilian airports, including Birmingham Airport, were used to practice transferring Coronavirus patients to local hospitals via helicopter.[252][253]

Several defence and aerospace companies contributed to the national effort to produce more ventilators.[254] BAE Systems, the country's largest defence company, also loaned its Warton Aerodrome site to be used as a temporary morgue.[255]

The armed forces assisted in the transportation of coronavirus patients in some of the country's remotest regions, such as Shetland and the Isles of Scilly.[256][257]

On 23 March 2020, Joint Helicopter Command began assisting the coronavirus relief effort by transporting people and supplies. Helicopters were based at RAF Leeming to cover the North of England and Scotland, whilst helicopters based at RAF Benson, RAF Odiham and RNAS Yeovilton supported the Midlands and Southern England.[258]

On 24 March 2020, the armed forces helped plan and construct a field hospital at the ExCeL London conference centre, named NHS Nightingale Hospital. Further NHS Nightingale Hospitals were later built with military assistance in Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate, Bristol, Exeter, Washington and Glasgow. These hospitals were staffed by military medics, alongside the NHS.[259][260]

In April, armed forces personnel began supporting ambulance services across the country.[261][262][263] Elsewhere, the armed forces helped transform locations to accommodate additional patient beds, including across Cumbria and the Isle of White.[264][265] Testing centres, including in Glasgow, were also assembled with military assistance.[266]

Training locations, such as Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and HMS Raleigh, had to adapt their passing out parades. Cadets involved were made to stand 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) apart in combat dress and there were no spectators in the grandstands.[267][268]

On 5 April 2020, following Prime Minister Boris Jonhson's hospitalisation due to coronavirus, concerns were raised with regards to national security, in particular control of the country's nuclear weapons. When asked by the BBC, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove stated "There are well developed protocols which are in place. I just really cannot talk about national security issues".[269]

Economics[edit source | edit]

The governor of the Bank of England called on the British government to provide support to businesses affected by the virus[270] and was reported to be working with the Treasury to provide a stimulus package to prevent the British economy falling into recession.[271] Companies listed on the London stock markets have fallen in value with commentators citing worries about the virus.[272] To stimulate the economy, the Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.75 to 0.25 percent.[273] On 19 March, the interest rate was again cut this time to 0.10% – the lowest rate in the bank's 325-year existence.[274] On 28 March, Fitch downgraded the UK's government debt rating from AA to AA-, because of coronavirus borrowing, economic decline, and lingering uncertainty over Brexit. The ratings agency believes that the UK's government deficit for 2020 might equal 9% of GDP, compared to 2% the previous year.[275]

As of April 9, Chancellor Sunak has solved the financing problem by overdraft and promised to pay it off by the end of the year,.[276]

Education[edit source | edit]

Following cases in Italy, the Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough closed, as some of their pupils had returned with symptoms from Italy. Fourteen schools in England had closed by 28 February.[19] Loughborough University reported a student confirmed to have the virus after recent travel to Italy, and indicated that several staff members and students began self-isolation.[277]

Cambridge University was heavily criticised for their incoherent response to the pandemic which forced international students and staff to scramble to make arrangements to return home with only two days' notice. On 13 March, students and staff were advised that international travel was discouraged and university facilities would stay open at reduced capacity. On 18 March, Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope announced a sudden U-turn and all university buildings would be indefinitely shut from all staff and students from the afternoon of Friday 20 March onwards, and all students are strongly encouraged to leave Cambridge.[278] The president of Cambridge UCU criticised that this sudden shutdown will exacerbate the pandemic as students from countries with weaker healthcare provisions are forced to return home.[278] Over a thousand Cambridge students signed an open letter requesting to have multiple assessment options in lieu of the cancelled examinations in Cambridge, including the option to retake part or all of the academic year in 2020–21.[279]

Coventry University first suspended all graduation ceremonies due to be held in March and April,[280] and from 20 March, suspended all face-to-face teaching, in favour of on-line delivery.[281] Many other higher education institutions took similar steps at around the same time.[282]

On 18 March, the Welsh government announced that all schools in Wales would be closing by 20 March.[283] On the same day, the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scottish schools would also be closing from 20 March, and may not reopen before the summer.[284] Later that day, it was announced that schools in Northern Ireland would close to pupils immediately and to staff on 20 March.[285] Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson announced that schools in England would close from 20 March for an unspecified length of time.[286] Boris Johnson said that schools will still look after the children of key workers, and vulnerable children.[287] The UK government also announced that GCSE and A Level exams were to be cancelled, an unprecedented action in UK educational history, and that grades were to be given out based on predicted grades and teacher assessment.[287][288][289]

Engineering[edit source | edit]

The seven Formula One teams based in the UK - McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault and Williams - and Haas with its European headquarters there, are collaborating, in an initiative called "Project Pitlane", to develop and manufacture ventilators for hospitals to use for Covid-19 patients.[290][291]

Heavy equipment manufacturer JCB have created prototypes of housings for ventilators to be produced by technology company Dyson, and is planning to start producing them to help Dyson fulfil a government order placed with them for 10,000 machines.[292]

On 2 April, it was announced that Ineos, the UK chemical company, had set up a factory capable of producing 1 million bottles of hand sanitiser per month. The factory in Newton Aycliffe, which usually produces PVC products for windows, is operating on three shifts per day and is distributing free bottles of sanitiser to the UK's national health services.[293]

On 31 March, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) put a re-usable protective visor into production in Warwickshire. Their target is to produce 5,000 units per week in Warwickshire and distribute them to NHS Trusts around the country. The manufacturing data for the visor, designed by JLR's engineers in Gaydon, is to be made open-source, so that other manufacturers can also produce the visors.[294]

Events[edit source | edit]

LGBT pride[edit source | edit]

On 23 March, Pride in London, the UK's largest LGBT Pride festival, scheduled for 27 June, was postponed. It was one of a hundred pride events to be postponed or cancelled in the UK.[295] On 3 April, Brighton Pride, scheduled for Saturday 1 August, was cancelled.[296]

Northern Ireland parades[edit source | edit]

On 6 April the Orange Lodge of Ireland announced that the traditional Twelfth of July parades in Northern Ireland had been cancelled.[297]

Food and hospitality[edit source | edit]

Fast food and drink outlets Pret a Manger and McDonald's[298] (among others) at first announced that they would not permit customers to sit and eat in stores, but customers could still order products to take away and consume off the premises. On 22 March McDonald's announced it would close all outlets in the UK and Ireland by 7pm on 23 March.[299] Nando's announced later the same day they would also close their outlets.[299]

Initially, the pub chain J D Wetherspoon remained open, despite government advice for the public to avoid places of social activity, including pubs. The chain announced that it would keep all pubs open "unless the government states otherwise". Wetherspoons put rules into place for the duration of the crisis to promote social distancing (as recommended by the government), including spacing out tables more and encouraging customers to use the Wetherspoons mobile app to order food and drink.[300] On 20 March, all Wetherspoon pubs were closed in line with instructions from the government.[301]

On 25 March, off-licences were added to the list of essential businesses allowed to stay open, also enabling pubs and brewery taprooms with licences to sell beer for home consumption to offer takeaway sales and home deliveries.[302]

Government[edit source | edit]

English NHS coronavirus poster, February 2020[303]

Guidance has altered in line with the number of cases detected and changes in where affected people have contracted the virus, as well as with what has been happening in other countries.[44] In February, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chris Whitty explained "we basically have a strategy which depends upon four tactical aims: the first one is to contain; the second of these is to delay; the third of these is to do the science and the research; and the fourth is to mitigate so we can brace the NHS."[16] These aims equate to four phases; specific actions involved in each of these phases are:

  • Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible
  • Delay: slow the spread within the UK, and (if it does take hold) lower the peak impact and push it away from the winter season
  • Research: better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; use the evidence to inform the development of the most effective models of care
  • Mitigate: provide the best care possible for people who become ill, support hospitals to maintain essential services and ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community, to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy.[304]

The four UK CMOs raised the UK risk level from low to moderate on 30 January 2020, upon the WHO's announcement of the disease as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.[12][13] As soon as cases appeared in the UK on 31 January 2020, a public health information campaign, similar to the previous "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" campaign, was launched in the UK, to advise people how to lessen the risk of spreading the virus.[13] Travellers from Hubei province in China, including the capital Wuhan were advised to self-isolate, "stay at home, not go to work, school or public places, not use public transport or taxis, ask friends, family members or delivery services to do errands",[305] and call NHS 111 if they had arrived in the UK in previous 14 days, regardless of whether they were unwell or not.[13] Further cases in early February prompted the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, to announce the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.[12] Daily updates have been published by the DHSC.[12] NHS Digital in the meanwhile, have been collecting data.[306]

Poster for the "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" slogan which has been revived in the fight against coronavirus

On 25 February 2020, the UK's CMOs advice for all travellers (unwell or not) who had returned to the UK from Hubei province in the previous 14 days, Iran, specific areas designated by the Italian government as quarantine areas in northern Italy and special care zones in South Korea since 19 February, to self-isolate and call NHS 111.[46] This advice was also advocated for any person who has flu-like symptoms with a history of travelling from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and areas in Italy north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini, returning to the UK since 19 February. Later, self-isolation was recommended for anyone returning from any part of Italy from 9 March.[12][46]

Initially, Boris Johnson largely kept Britain open, resisting the kind of lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe. In a speech on 3 February, Johnson's main concern was that the "coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage."[307] On 13 March, UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told BBC Radio 4 that one of "the key things we need to do" is to "build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission".[308] This involves enough people getting infected, upon which they develop immunity to the disease.[309][310] Vallance said that 60% of the UK's population will need to become infected for herd immunity to be achieved.[311][310] This stance was criticised by experts who said that it would lead to hundreds of thousands deaths and overwhelm the NHS. Over 200 scientists urged the government to rethink the approach in an open letter.[312] Subsequently, Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied that herd immunity was a plan for the UK, although the Department of Health and Social Care said that "herd immunity is a natural byproduct of an epidemic".[313] On 4 April, The Times reported that the government's science adviser, Graham Medley, is still advocating a "herd immunity" strategy.[314] There was also criticism over a lack of transparency around the scientific evidence being used to inform the government response, with a letter published in the Lancet on 17 March calling on the government to openly share its data and models as a matter of urgency.[315]

On 2 March, Boris Johnson said in an interview with BBC News: "The most important thing now is that we prepare against a possible very significant expansion of coronavirus in the UK population". This came after the 39th case in the UK was confirmed and over a month after the first confirmed case in the UK.[316] The same day, a BBC One programme Coronavirus: Everything You Need to Know addressed questions from the public on the outbreak.[317] The following day, the Coronavirus Action Plan was unveiled.[12] The next day, as the total number of cases in the UK stood at 51, the government declared the coronavirus pandemic as a "level 4 incident",[18] permitting NHS England to take command of all NHS resources.[18][318] Planning has been made for behaviour changing publicity including good hygiene and respiratory hygiene ("catch it, bin it, kill it"),[319] a simple measure which helps in delaying the peak of the infection and buys time for the testing of drugs and initial development of vaccines.[304] Primary care has been issued guidance.[320]

Controversy over apparent errors that the Government had made continued. For example, Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet told BBC's Question Time that "We knew in the last week of January that this was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear that a new virus with pandemic potential was hitting cities. ... We knew that 11 weeks ago and then we wasted February when we could have acted."[321]

Public Health England has also been involved with efforts to support the British Overseas Territories against the outbreak.[322][323]

On 27 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he had contracted coronavirus and was self-isolating and that he would continue to lead the Government's response to coronavirus through video conference.[128] On the evening of 5 April the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital for tests.[324] The next day he was moved to the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital, and Dominic Raab was asked to deputise for him.[29]

Regulations and legislation[edit source | edit]

Restaurant in London offering home deliveries after dining in was banned. March 2020.

The government published the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020[325] on 10 February 2020, a statutory instrument covering the legal framework behind the government's initial containment and isolation strategies and its organisation of the national reaction to the virus. Other published regulations include changes to Statutory Sick Pay (into force on 13 March),[326] and changes to Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (also 13 March).[327]

On 19 March, the government introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020, which grants the government discretionary emergency powers in the areas of the NHS, social care, schools, police, the Border Force, local councils, funerals and courts.[328] The act received royal assent on 25 March 2020.[329]

Closures to pubs, restaurants and indoor sports and leisure facilities were imposed via the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020.[330]

The restrictions on movements, except for allowed purposes are:

Communications[edit source | edit]

GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info and exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.
UK Government advisory SMS message, 24 March 2020

The government has held daily evening press conferences since the 17 March. These were mostly hosted by Boris Johnson with cabinet ministers (often Matt Hancock) and senior scientific advisors.[335]

On 24 March, all major mobile telephony providers, acting upon a government request, sent out an SMS message to each of their customers, with advice on staying isolated.[336] This was the first ever use of the facility.[336] Although the government in 2013 endorsed the use of Cell Broadcast to send official emergency messages to all mobile phones, and has tested such a system, it has never actually been implemented. Backer Toby Harris said that the government had not yet agreed upon who would fund and govern such a system.[337][338]

Law and order[edit source | edit]

On 17 March, trials lasting longer than three days were postponed until May in England and Wales, while Scottish courts were not starting any new trial indefinitely. In England and Wales those cases already running would continue in the hope of reaching a conclusion.[339][340] A poll published on 20 March claimed that only 23% of British adults were strictly following the government's coronavirus advice.[341]

Personal attacks[edit source | edit]

For further information, see List of incidents of xenophobia and racism related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic#United Kingdom

There have been reports of hate incidents against Italian and Chinese persons[342] and a Singaporean student was assaulted in London in an attack that police linked to coronavirus fears.[343]

Prisons[edit source | edit]

The government released specific guidance to prisons in the event of coronavirus symptoms or cases, specifically the rule that "any prisoner or detainee with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature should be placed in protective isolation for 7 days".[344] There are around 83,000 prisoners in England and Wales.[345]

On 14 March, a prison officer in HMP High Down in Surrey tested positive for the virus and was sent home to self-isolate. Four officers who had contact with him were placed in isolation as a precaution.[346] On 18 March, the first coronavirus case was reported within the UK prison population. The prisoner, who had been serving time in HMP Manchester (commonly referred to as Strangeways), was moved to a hospital. While no other prisoners or staff tested positive for the virus, thirteen prisoners and four members of staff were put into isolation as a precaution.[347] Prison visits remained open, but the situation is being monitored.[348] On 19 March, it was revealed that around 75 officers at HMP Berwyn in Wales were off work due to sickness or self-isolation, and 22 prisoners showing symptoms of coronavirus were being isolated by the prison. However, the prison had enough staff members to remain fully operational.[349] Another prison officer tested positive on 20 March at HMP Whitemoor near March, Cambridgeshire.[350]

Following the case in HMP Manchester, public services think tank Reform called for the release of 2,305 "low-risk" offenders on short sentences to reduce the risk of coronavirus on the prison population.[351] Their report argues that prison are "overcrowded [with] insanitary conditions and poor-quality healthcare".[352] Similar actions have been taken in Iran and the United States.[353] Former justice secretary David Gauke echoed similar sentiments, citing the "churn" of prisoners going in and out of prison as a risk.[354]

On 23 March, a prisoner tested positive for the virus at HMP Birmingham and was placed into isolation. The prison was not placed into full lockdown, but made the decision to restrict access.[355] On the same day, a prisoner at HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton tested positive for the virus and was placed into isolation. Visits to the prison were not stopped, but it is believed they were reduced.[356]

On 24 March, the Ministry of Justice announced that prison visits would be suspended and that inmates would be confined to their cells.[357] In order to maintain communication between prisoners and their families, the government promised 900 secure phones to 55 prisons, with calls being monitored and time-limited.[358] In a committee meeting on the same day, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland suggested that 50 pregnant inmates might be given early release, and another 9,000 inmates awaiting trial could be transferred to bail hostels.[359]

On 26 March, it was reported that 84-year-old convicted paedophile Edwin Hillier[360] had died from COVID-19 on 22 March at HMP Littlehey in Cambridgeshire, becoming the first inmate in the UK to die from the virus.[345] Another 66-year-old male inmate died from COVID-19 on 26 March at HMP Manchester.[361] As of 5pm on 5 April 2020, 107 cases had been confirmed in 38 UK jails, and nine prisoners with coronavirus had died.[362]

Immigration centres[edit source | edit]

During mid-March, 300 people were released from immigration detention centres because of the pandemic following a campaign by charities concerned with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the centres.[363] On 25 March, it was reported that three immigration detention centres had reported cases of people with coronavirus.[364] On 2 April, a letter leaked from G4S, a company running immigration detention centres for the Home Office, revealed that detainees who were at high risk from COVID-19 were being put in solitary confinement.[365]

Policing[edit source | edit]

On 26 March, in an attempt to emphasise the importance of following the social distancing instructions given by the government, the police were given powers to impose fines on individuals gathered in groups or who refuse to return home when asked to.[366] By 31 March, some police forces, and individual officers, were being criticised by a variety of people - citizens,[367] former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption,[366][368] former justice secretary David Gauke,[367] former chancellor George Osborne,[369] privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch[367] - for over-zealous and incorrect application of the new powers. Police had put black dye into Harpur Hill Quarry, and, using a drone, filmed people before posting the images on social media.[369] New guidance was released by the National Police Chiefs Council.[370]

National health services[edit source | edit]

Appointments and self-isolation[edit source | edit]

A Coronavirus 'pod' at Hull Royal Infirmary.

In March, hospitals in England begin to prepare for the cancellation of all non-urgent elective procedures.[371] On 22 March, the government announced that it would be asking about 1.5 million people (everyone in England with certain health conditions that carry serious risk if infected) to self-isolate for 12 weeks. They were to be notified by mail or text messaged by their NHS general practitioners, and provided deliveries of medication, food, and household essentials, delivered by pharmacists and local governments, and at least initially paid for by the UK government.[372] Members of the public were told to stay at home, should they suspect they have symptoms of covid-19, and not visit a GP, pharmacy, or hospital.[373] For advice, the public were told to use a dedicated online self-assessment form before calling NHS 111, the non-emergency medical helpline.[374]

Equipment[edit source | edit]

Face masks given to NHS staff March 2020

On 16 March, Boris Johnson met with business leaders via conference call and set them the target of delivering 30,000 ventilators in a fortnight; the government also declined to join an emergency European Union scheme to procure ventilators and other emergency equipment like personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital staff, stating that the UK was no longer part of the EU and that this was area in which it was making its own efforts.[375] On 21 March, it was announced that NHS England had negotiated a deal to use, at cost price, almost the entire private health system, bringing 8,000 beds and 1,100 ventilators into the project.[376] Existing ventilator stocks stood at 5,900 at the beginning of the outbreak.[377]

On 16 March, primary care magazine Pulse reported doctors were receiving out of date PPE that had had its 2016 use-by date covered with a sticker saying "2021".[378] In response, the government offered reassurance that this was safe.[379] Earlier in the month, in response to a survey of Pulse's readership, two of five GPs reported they still did not have PPE to protect them from coronavirus.[378] Some of these concerns were raised with Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions, to which the Prime Minister replied the UK had "stockpiles" of PPE.[380] The same day, the Doctors' Association reported NHS staff felt they were being put at risk due to lack of PPE.[381] On 22 March, in a letter with 3,963 signatures published in The Times, NHS staff asked Johnson to "protect the lives of the life-savers" and resolve the what they saw as the "unacceptable" shortage of protective equipment.[382][383] On 23 March, in an effort to meet demand and due to concerns about the rising number of medics becoming ill after exposure to the virus, the NHS asked DIY stores to donate PPE for use by NHS staff.[384] Hancock admitted there were "challenges" with supplying PPE to NHS staff and said a million masks had been bought that weekend.[385] The following day, the government said there was enough PPE for everyone in the NHS who needed it; this was contradicted by the Royal College of Nursing,[386] and the British Medical Association (BMA), which said some of the PPE doctors had received were inadequate[387] and medics were resorting to wearing DIY PPE they had purchased themselves.[388] The BMA warned that without enough PPE doctors would die.[389]

People in London wear masks on 19 March 2020

On March 31, 10,000 health workers wrote to the prime minister demanding better safeguards, including the right PPE.[390] On 1 April, the government said 390 million pieces of PPE had been distributed to the health service in the past fortnight. The Royal College of Midwives[391] and the BMA said that the supplies had yet to reach medical staff.[392] The RCM, in a joint statement with unions, including Unite, Unison and the GMB, said the lack of PPE was now 'a crisis within a crisis'.[391]

On 29 March the government issued specification for the "minimally clinically acceptable" manufacturer and use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines.[393]

Staffing[edit source | edit]

On 1 March, Hancock said retired NHS staff might be asked to return to work to help with the crisis.[394] The request was issued on 19 March and included final year medical students.[395] On 29 March, Boris Johnson announced that more than 20,000 former NHS staff were returning to work in response to the pandemic.[396]

On 21 March, it was announced that the NHS had negotiated a deal to use, at cost price, almost the entire private health system, bringing 20,000 medical staff into the national effort.[376]

On 24 March, Matt Hancock announced the start of a scheme to recruit 250,000 volunteers to support the NHS through the pandemic.[397] The volunteers would carry out jobs like collecting and deliver shopping, medication or "other essential supplies" for people in isolation; transporting equipment and medication between NHS services; transporting medically fit patients and providing telephone support to people at risk of loneliness because of self-isolation.[398] The target was surpassed in 24 hours and was raised to 750,000.[399] The scheme was paused on 29 March after the new target was reached.[398]

Beds[edit source | edit]

The National Health Service freed up 30,000 beds by discharging patients who were well enough and delaying non-emergency treatment,[400] and acquired use of 20,000 beds in private sector facilities.[400] Emergency building work was undertaken to add capacity to existing hospitals, 52 beds in Wigan, for example.[401]

NHS COVID-19 critical care hospitals[edit source | edit]

On 24 March, it was announced that NHS England would establish a temporary critical care hospital, NHS Nightingale Hospital London, in the Excel London conference centre.[116] The field hospital would have 4,000 beds in two wards.[402][403] Also on 24 March, it was reported that NHS Wales were looking at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff for a similar purpose.[117] On 25 March, it was confirmed that NHS Scotland had identified Glasgow's SEC Centre exhibition and conference facility as a potential site for a similar hospital in Scotland.[118] On 26 March it was reported that the Northern Ireland health service was also looking for potential sites to use for temporary hospitals.[119] On 27 March, NHS England announced that they would be establishing more NHS Nightingale Hospitals in other major UK conference centres to help to deal with the large number of cases expected,[120] at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham and at Manchester Central Convention Complex.[404] The London hospital opened 3 April,[405] and received its first patients on 7 April.[406]

Religion[edit source | edit]

Notice at Episcopal Church in Gourock; No public services until further notice.

The Church of England and other Anglican churches in the British Isles suspended in-person worship during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.[407][408][409] The Archbishop of Canterbury led a virtual service that was broadcast on 39 local BBC stations.[410] The Catholic Church, Methodist Church in Great Britain and the Society of Friends also put a temporary moratorium on public worship.[411][412]

The chief rabbi in the United Kingdom advised the suspension of Jewish worship in synagogues and the Muslim Council of Britain has ordered the closure of mosques in the country.[411]

Research and innovation[edit source | edit]

Existing research[413] by the Medical Research Council (United Kingdom) Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis informs understanding of the COVID-19 outbreak and Diamond Light Source allows scientists to design and develop compounds that may lead to clinical drugs to tackle it.[414]

In March 2020, UK Research and Innovation announced [415] the launch of a website to explain the scientific evidence and the facts about the virus, the disease, the epidemic, and its control, in a bid to dispel misinformation. The editorial team come from University of Oxford, European Bioinformatics Institute, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, University of Glasgow and King's College London.

UK Research and Innovation also announced[416] £20 million for rapid response R&D projects such as a project to develop a vaccine and another to test the viability of existing drugs to treat the virus. A COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium has been established to deliver large-scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease[417] , and £260 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to support its vaccine development work against COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases[418] .

Innovate UK announced £20 million funding for innovative businesses[419] and is also working closely with Formula 1 and a collective of UK-based teams, engine manufacturers and their respective technology arms as part of Project Pitlane to co-ordinate its work.[420]

Sport[edit source | edit]

On 5 March, the England–Italy fixtures in the men's and women's' Six Nations Championship tournaments, set to be played in Rome on 14 and 15 March, were postponed by tournament organisers after the Italian government introduced restrictions on attendances to sporting events.[421] Scotland's Women's Six Nations home fixture against France on 7 March was also postponed after one Scotland player tested positive for the virus.[422]

To contain the spread of the virus the Premier League announced on 6 March an end to pre-match fair play handshakes between players and officials.[423] On 10 March, the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal was postponed in light of confirmation that Nottingham Forest and Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis had contracted the virus. Marinakis had met with several Arsenal players when the London side hosted Olympiacos in a Europa League round of 32 match.[424] On 10 March the four-day Cheltenham Festival continued as planned with enhanced hygiene measures in place,[425] as did the All England Open Badminton Championships in Birmingham the next day.[426]

On 12 March, it was announced that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had tested positive to COVID-19,[427] and the next day Chelsea midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi became the first Premier League player to test positive for coronavirus.[428] Professional football was later suspended across the United Kingdom on 13 March, with the Premier League, English Football League, Women's Super League, and Welsh and Northern Irish football leagues delaying matches until the beginning of April[429] and the Scottish Professional Football League suspending matches indefinitely.[430] Professional football in England was later postponed until the end of April.[431] The day also saw the cancellation of the Wales–Scotland Six Nations match scheduled for 14 March[432] and the postponement of the London, Manchester and Brighton Marathons from their April dates until the autumn.[433]

The next five days saw a flurry of further sporting cancellations. Five fixtures set to be played on Saturday 14 March in the National League were postponed,[434] with all matches across both the National League and the Northern Premier League suspended two days later and the Football Association recommending the postponement of grassroots level football "for the foreseeable future".[435] The Welsh Rugby Union discontinued all rugby matches across Wales from Saturday evening until the end of the month.[436] On Sunday 15 March the Netball Superleague was postponed.[437] Premiership Rugby was suspended for five weeks on Monday 16 March, with all rugby activities in England being delayed until 14 April.[438] Monday additionally saw the cancellation of the Grand National,[439] the postponement of the Edinburgh Marathon from May to September,[440] and the first peacetime cancellation of the Boat Race.[441] On Tuesday 17 March all motor racing events sanctioned by the national governing body Motorsport UK were suspended until May.[442] All horse racing events were similarly suspended the following day,[439] as were all boxing tournaments until further notice subject to a British Boxing Board of Control review in April.[443]

Royal family[edit source | edit]

On 4 March, the 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II wore long gloves while awarding honours at a public investiture ceremony, prompting some to speculate the measure as a precaution against COVID-19.[444][445] On 19 March the Queen left London for Windsor Castle.[446] On the same day she issued a message to the nation noting that the country and the world was entering a period of great concern and uncertainty.[447] Her grandsons Princes William and Harry both sent messages out via social media.[448] Princess Beatrice cancelled her wedding reception at Buckingham Palace and took further advice on whether to carry on with a private wedding ceremony.[449]

On 9 March, Prince Charles greeted people with the Namaste hand gesture instead of a handshake at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey to avoid the spread of the virus, and did the same for the Prince's Trust Awards on 11 March.[450] On 10 March, Charles met Albert II, Prince of Monaco, who later came down with the infection.[451] On 25 March, it was announced that he had received a positive test result for COVID-19 and was suffering mild symptoms. He self-isolated at Birkhall on the Balmoral Castle estate.[452][453] Concerns were raised for the health of the entire Royal Family, as well as concerns that he may have unwittingly become a super-spreader of the disease due to the vast number of people he regularly meets. Charles last saw the Queen on 12 March, just one day before the earliest date medical experts believe he would have been contagious.[451] The Duchess of Cornwall tested negative, but self-isolated.[452][453] On 30 March Clarence House, the Prince's official residence, confirmed that he had come out of self-isolation after seven days having recovered from the illness.[454][455] On 6 April, the Duchess came out of self-isolation after showing no symptoms for 14 days.[456]

On 29 March, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave their support to a Public Health England campaign to protect people's mental health during the outbreak. The campaign encourages people to stay in touch with family and friends via telephone and social media.[457]

On 3 April, the Queen held the first 'virtual' meeting with the Privy Council in history due to the ongoing pandemic.[458]

Transport[edit source | edit]

An empty M4 motorway in Cardiff on the afternoon of Saturday 28 March 2020

Aviation[edit source | edit]

From the latter half of January, Heathrow Airport received additional clinical support and tightened surveillance of the three direct flights that it receives from Wuhan every week; each were to be met by a Port Health team.[35] Later, airlines including British Airways and Ryanair announced a number of flight cancellations for March.[20]

Regional airline Flybe had been brought to the brink of collapse following prior financial trouble earlier in the year. This, combined with decreased ticket sales as a result of the outbreak, caused the airline to stop ticket sales on 4 March 2020.[459][460] The company entered administration and ceased operations the following day.[461] Despite some calls for a bailout, led mainly by Virgin Atlantic, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said that the government would only come into the picture as "a last resort".[462][463]

On 25 March, London City Airport announced it would temporarily close due to the coronavirus outbreak.[464] Heathrow Airport closed one runway from 6 April, while Gatwick Airport closed one of its two terminals, and said its runway would open for scheduled flights only between 2pm and 10pm.[465] Most other UK airports also significantly scaled back operations.[466]

Public transport[edit source | edit]

On 20 March, Southeastern became the first train operating company to announce a reduced timetable, which would come into use from 23 March.[467] On that day the government announced emergency measures to safeguard the nation's rail network, with season ticket holders given refunds if working from home, and rail franchise agreements nationalised for at least six months to prevent train operating companies from collapsing.[468][469] From 30 March, open-access operator Hull Trains suspended all services,[470] with Gatwick Express and Grand Central following shortly afterwards.[471][472]

On 19 March, the Stagecoach Supertram light rail network in Sheffield announced that they would be switching to a modified Sunday service from 23 March until further notice.[473] Local bus operators First South Yorkshire and Stagecoach Yorkshire, which operate across the same area, announced that they would also be switching to a reduced timetable from 23 March.[474]

"Stay at home" and "Please keep your distance" notices on the London Underground, 27 March 2020.

Transport for London (TfL) services were reduced in stages. All Night Overground and Night Tube services, as well as all services on the Waterloo & City line, were suspended from 20 March, and 40 tube stations were closed on the same day.[475] The Mayor of London and TfL urged people to only use public transport if absolutely essential, so that it could be used by critical workers.[476] The London Underground brought in new measures on 25 March to combat the spread of the virus, by slowing the flow of passengers onto platforms. Measures included the imposition of queuing at ticket gates and turning off some escalators.[477]

National Express suspended all its long-distance coach services from 6 April.[478]

Spread to other countries and territories[edit source | edit]

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 upon her return from WE Day events in the UK; on 12 March 2020 the Trudeau family entered two weeks of self-isolation.[479] The first patient in Mauritius was a 59-year-old man who returned from the United Kingdom on 7 March 2020. When he arrived in Mauritius, the Mauritian had no symptoms.[480] Other cases of the novel coronavirus resulting from travel to the UK were subsequently reported in India,[481][482] and Nigeria.[483]

Statistics[edit source | edit]

The figures in the table below represent laboratory confirmed cases only; and as indicated by the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, it is likely that other cases in the UK are not reflected in these figures (on 12 March 2020 there were 596 confirmed cases, but the total number of cases was estimated at 5,000–10,000).[70] Death statistics are presented daily, but there may be a delay between death and it entering official statistics so families can be informed first. The delay is usually just a few days, but can be over a week.[484][197] For example, on 28 March, the Department of Health and Social Care reported that the total deaths in hospital in England (not the UK) to the end of 27 March was 926. The correct figure is now believed to have been 1,649, which is 78% higher than reported. When the Office for National Statistics has data for deaths from Coronavirus at home, the figure will be increased further.[485]

Death figures reflect only deaths from hospitals and not retirement homes.[486] Known locations of death are shown in brackets.

Template:2019–20 coronavirus pandemic data/United Kingdom medical cases

Graphs[edit source | edit]

See also[edit source | edit]

Notes[edit source | edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Not included in this data is the death of one British citizen on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship on 28 February – see the 2020 coronavirus pandemic on cruise ships article for more information on this case. Also not included is the death of one British citizen in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands – see the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the Cayman Islands article for more information on this case.
  2. Daily updates occur around 2 pm UTC.
  3. In addition to this figure, there have been eight confirmed cases in the British Overseas Territories (including in Gibraltar,[7] Akrotiri and Dhekelia,[8] Bermuda,[9] the Cayman Islands,[10] and Montserrat).[11]

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